In his room, on his bed, after another and perhaps final disappointment because of football, Doug Baldwin’s phone rang.
Earlier that day, Baldwin had taken his girlfriend and best friend to a Mexican restaurant near his house to watch the final rounds of the 2011 NFL draft. But the final pick passed without Baldwin hearing his name, and he was angry. He sent his girlfriend and friend home and sat in the restaurant for 30 minutes before returning to his room.
Then his phone buzzed. On the other end was a familiar and distinct voice – his old teammate, Richard Sherman. The two had met four years earlier as wide receivers at Stanford, and they quickly struck up a friendship.
Sherman had been selected by the Seahawks in the fifth round earlier that day, and now he played pitchman. The Seahawks wanted Baldwin as an undrafted free agent, and so did Sherman.
They had known each other when they were poor and the possibilities of the NFL seemed a moon dream. Now, on the phone that April day, they were preparing to leave that old world for an exotic new one.
“They’re going to call you,” Sherman told Baldwin. “I want you to be here.”
Baldwin first met Sherman on his recruiting visit to Stanford. Baldwin was a two-star receiver with only one Division I scholarship offer. Sherman was a year older and already a receiver at the school.
During their first season together, Sherman had four touchdowns, all of them off blown coverage, according to Baldwin. Sherman chirped to his teammates in a way only he could: He said that he forced the coverage to mess up.
“He’s not always right,” Baldwin often jokes, “but he’s never wrong.”
While at Stanford – Sherman redshirted one season – neither of them could afford the roughly $200 for parking passes, but Sherman still parked his car on campus.
“I just remember one day he had a lot of parking tickets on his car,” Baldwin says, “and once you get to a certain number – I think it’s 12 – you get a boot on your car so you can’t drive. I remember he took the whole tire off, with the boot, and put his spare on. And they caught him and put another boot on that tire. He called me up like, ‘Hey, can you come pick me up?’ I remember getting there, and he just left his car there. I think it’s still there.”
During their rookie season in Seattle, Baldwin and Sherman “carpooled to work” – Baldwin’s words – when an argument broke out driving home. The contents of that argument are lost to time, but what’s remembered is Sherman looking over at Baldwin mid-argument.
“Let’s fight,” he said.
“Pull over, then,” Baldwin shouted.
So Sherman pulled over on the side of the highway, with cars whizzing by, and the two nearly got out and came to blows before cooler heads prevailed.
“We’re too similar,” Sherman says.
When Sherman agreed to his $56 million extension with the Seahawks in May, he called Baldwin right away.
“I cried,” Baldwin says. “I’m not going to lie.”
Their experiences together have formed a deep, hard-to-describe appreciation.
“We talked about it at Stanford,” Baldwin says. “One of our mottos was, ‘Be happy for another man’s success.’ It’s easy in this world, in this business, to get caught up and get jealous of people. But in that moment, because I’ve known him for so long and I’ve known his struggle, I was so happy for him.”
Baldwin pauses, and the expression on his face turns to introspection.
“I don’t know,” he says, talking slower than usual. “It’s … it’s real emotional. I was just so happy for him. I legitimately thought about it afterward: That’s how I know that I care about him. Typical me, when I saw some other players that I’ve known around the league be successful, I was like, ‘Damn, when am I going to get mine?’ But with Sherman, it was like, ‘Damn I’m so happy for him.’ I didn’t think about anything else.”
Baldwin and Sherman signed new contracts this offseason – Baldwin signed an extension for $13 million a few weeks after Sherman’s deal – and those perks come with new responsibilities and expectations, even within the cocoon of the locker room.
Some of Baldwin’s closest friends on the team are fellow undrafted receivers Jermaine Kearse, Bryan Walters and Ricardo Lockette. He always relished the inferred slights of that status.
“But even with them sometimes,” Baldwin says, “they tell me, ‘Hey, look, calm down a little bit.’ I’m still this fiery, passionate guy. I was perceived OK before because they thought I was fighting. And to me, I still am. But to other guys it’s like, ‘You don’t have to be like this anymore. You got paid.’ When I’m begging for reps in practice or begging for reps in a game, other guys are like, ‘You got paid. Let these other guys get their chance.’ ”
The perception also changes closer to home. Baldwin has always had family members ask for money or favors since entering the NFL, but that increased “tenfold” after his new deal.
Sherman has faced his own changes in morphing from a popular football player into a full-blown celebrity. In just the past year, President Obama mentioned him in a speech, John McCain called him a “loudmouth” and Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people of 2014. His face is on the cover of the iconic video game “Madden” and all over commercials.
Baldwin and Sherman are two of Seattle’s most famous players, and even the simple act of going to dinner or the casino together carries a certain importance. They don’t talk about the Seahawks, or even about football, and Baldwin calls that “vital” because it keeps them grounded.
“Those are the best times,” Sherman says.
As he has done so many times, Sherman owned the moment when he sat on a stage with coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider to announce his extension. He said he wanted to change the “discourse” for what inner-city kids could do with their lives, described himself as a “raggedy dog” and referenced a song by The Notorious B.I.G.
But Sherman also did something much subtler. He was asked if he would still have a chip on his shoulder after getting paid, and he talked about the 23 cornerbacks taken ahead of him in the draft, how that still keeps him “attacking” and “angry.”
And then he mentioned Baldwin, who was seated in the third row.
“It keeps Doug angry too, as a lot of people know him as,” Sherman said, looking at Baldwin and smiling. “He’ll always stay angry, too, so once you have the same question for him, yes, he’ll still be angry.”
It was a small moment overshadowed by much larger ones, but Baldwin understood what Sherman was doing. Sherman knew Baldwin was one of the next players the Seahawks would negotiate with, and he turned his spotlight, ever so slightly, Baldwin’s way.
“A lot of people look at him as a selfish guy because of the things he does on the field – or says off the field,” Baldwin says. “But he’s genuinely a big teddy bear. He’s a child at heart, and he cares about people. We’ve always been close, but in that situation it showed me really how much he cared about me.”
When the time came for Baldwin to put the finishing touches on his own extension later that month, he talked to Sherman throughout.
“In the entire scheme of the decision, he was about 40 percent,” Baldwin says. “Forty percent was him, 20 percent was the security and the other 40 percent was my genuineness of wanting to be here.”
After agreeing to the deal, Baldwin called Sherman.
“Great,” Sherman said. “When’s the press conference?”
Baldwin says it’s strange how fast everything has happened. Just three years ago, before the final day of cuts during training camp his rookie year, Baldwin called Dropbox, a company he’d talked with in college, to make sure he could still interview for a job. Just in case. Now people recognize him at a Starbucks with a hood over his head.
And it must be even stranger to watch the same process unfold, on an almost unfathomable scale, for a friend who has been with him the past eight years.
The demands of adulthood have caught up with Sherman and Baldwin, and much of their time is consumed by appearances, endorsements, media obligations and charitable work. But to spend a few hours a week at a blackjack table and talk about anything besides football is a therapy of the most basic kind.
“They get to be normal human beings for a while,” says Branton Sherman.
At a practice last year, Baldwin dropped a pass when he tried to catch the ball with one hand instead of securing it with two. Watching the film later, with Sherman in coverage, Baldwin admitted he tried to get too fancy.
“Especially against Sherm,” he said.
In the summer, when Sherman and former Seahawks receiver Phil Bates fought during practice, it was no surprise that two of the people jawing the most were Baldwin and Sherman.
After his now-infamous interview with FOX’s Erin Andrews, Sherman asked Baldwin if what he had done had taken away from the team (he told him he didn’t think so). After Baldwin said the Seahawks’ offense needed to “stop BS-ing ourselves” in a heated interview following a loss to Dallas this season, he asked Sherman if he went too far.
“He said, ‘You know, I wouldn’t have said that,’ ” Baldwin says. “And I was like, If Sherm wouldn’t have said it, then I probably shouldn’t have said it.”
On the phone nearly four years ago, shortly after the draft ended but right before their lives changed, Baldwin and Sherman made a promise to each other that nothing was going to change despite what awaited.
“We knew the money was going to come,” Baldwin says. “We knew the fame was going to come. All that (stuff) was going to come. But if we kept our goals on what we set before we even stepped in the league, nothing was going to change.”
Beverly Sherman goes to games fully decked in Seahawks gear, and she cheers for two “sons” at every game. One, of course, is her real son, Richard Sherman. The other is Doug Baldwin.
She met Baldwin while he and her son were at Stanford and has remained close with him.
“I love him to death,” she says.
Beverly wears a badge for Richard on one side of her shirt and one for Doug on the other. She has Baldwin’s rookie jersey – No. 15 – hanging in the game room of her new house, right there next to Richard’s. She has pictures of Richard and Doug jumping and celebrating, and her voice cracks a little when she says this.
“Dougie and Richard, they will just be close for the rest of their lives,” she says, “and that will make me very happy.”
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